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Miramichi is home to the government’s main centre for its new pay system, Phoenix, which has failed to compensate more than 80,000 public servants properly.Getty Images/iStockphoto

The pay problems affecting more than 80,000 public servants appear to be rooted in more than insufficient training, as users complain of problems with the software the government purchased to manage its compensation system.

The union representing nearly 600 employees at the government's centralized pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., is disputing the Liberal government's claim that the problems stem from poor training. In addition to a lack of training and understaffing, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) also blames the issues on software problems with Phoenix.

"Workers at the pay centre in Miramichi have been doing their best to pay people accurately and on time. But insufficient staff, training and flaws in the new Phoenix pay system are preventing these workers from doing so," PSAC said in an e-mail. "The software appears to have inherent problems that cannot be easily addressed, especially given the lack of sufficient staffing at the Miramichi pay centre."

More specifically, the union said the system is not equipped to process irregular pay, such as overtime, maternity top-ups and shift pay for workers on Canadian Coast Guard ships.

Another source who regularly uses Phoenix said employee names randomly disappear from the system, meaning there is no record of the public servant.

IBM, the software designer, said it does not comment on the specifics of its client agreements.

Phoenix was introduced as a part of the previous Conservative government's modernization plan for the 40-year-old pay system in an effort to consolidate services; the Liberals were responsible for implementing it. After 15 months of testing on 16,000 pay scenarios, Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote said she was assured Phoenix was ready to launch its first phase across 34 government departments on Feb. 24.

Ms. Foote said the government underestimated the amount of time it would take for all users to become trained and familiar with the system, and that the Phoenix software is fine.

However, PSAC said the government's description of the pay fiasco as a training problem is oversimplified. The union said it warned the government in 2013 that there could be problems without sufficient training.

PSAC is asking the government to take Phoenix offline and revert back to the old regional pay system while it is fixed.

Of the 300,000 people paid through Phoenix, 81,820 have missed paycheques, or been over or underpaid since the system launch in February.